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Why did they stop flying to the moon?

Why did they stop flying to the moon? 1

On July 20, 1969, one of the most important events in the history of mankind took place: a man set foot on the moon. It was the culmination of over a decade of scientific, engineering and political work and represents one of our greatest achievements. Ultimately, the United States made six moon landings, bringing a total of 12 astronauts to the lunar surface by 1972.

And then they stopped …

It will soon be five decades since humans walked on the lunar surface. Contrary to countless sci-fi tales, we do not have a lunar base. Contrary to many optimistic opinions, we are not even very close to ever returning. Usually the hardest part of moving from one place to another is the first time;

After that, the logistical problems are solved, and the journey becomes easier and easier. For example, when Europeans realized that there was a huge territory between them and India, travel to America and back quickly became commonplace.

So why didn’t this happen to the Moon?

The answer to this question is a whole matrix of reasons why, unfortunately, people are still attached to the Earth.


One of the key drivers of the United States’ drive to land humans on the moon was its sense of rivalry with the Soviet Union. According to Ars Technica, in the 1950s, the Soviet Union invested money and knowledge in its space program and achieved several startling results.

The satellite became the first artificial Earth satellite in orbit in 1957, and in 1961 the Soviet pilot Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit the Earth. By the early 1960s, it seemed clear that the Soviet Union would be the first country to land someone on the moon.

President Kennedy delivers his "Decision to Go to the Moon" speech on May 25, 1961, before Congress.
President Kennedy delivers his “Decision to Go to the Moon” speech on May 25, 1961, before Congress.

The Cold War was in full swing, and the potential technological and strategic advantages that such a feat could bring to the Soviet Union raised American concerns. In 1962, President Kennedy said, “This is a race, whether we like it or not. Everything we do in space should be connected with getting to the moon before the Russians. “

As former NASA chief historian Roger Launius noted, “The space race was actually an arranged war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Instead of deploying tanks and troops on Earth, the two countries sent scientists and engineers to claim the Moon as their own – although would be symbolic.

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These cold war conditions no longer exist, and so far no country has risen to the same rivalry with the US as the Soviet Union, which removes the key reason we went to the moon. “

It’s too politically risky

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It took more than ten years to get to the moon for the first time. It also took an incredible amount of money and effort, both mental and physical. And everything could go wrong at any moment – technology could fail, astronauts could die, or the new president could simply cancel the project. The political risks were so high that it was a miracle that the project was a success.

As Business Insider reports, “These political risks have only worsened in the decades since our last visit to the moon.” Presidents have often suggested a return to the moon, and NASA has several plans to do so, but once the price rises sharply and the problems become clear, those plans tend to shift towards goals that are perceived as more practical. “

This is another problem: the benefits of going back to the moon are mostly theoretical. R&D is a key reason to come back, but there is no clear rate of return.

The lunar base could be used as a gas station, but until there is a more practical reason to fly to and from the moon – or use the moon as a stopover on our way to another location – the risks associated with such a project. scare. Simply put, no politician wants his name to be associated with a costly waste of time or a tragic disaster.

The original moon landing was a publicity stunt

President John F. Kennedy delivers his famous “We Chose to Go to the Moon” speech at Rice University of Houston in September 1962.
President John F. Kennedy delivers his famous “We Chose to Go to the Moon” speech at Rice University of Houston in September 1962.

It is absolutely true that John F. Kennedy was the man who insisted on going to the moon, citing the need to combat the Russians’ attempts to dominate space. But the truth is a little less inspiring. Because part of the reason President Kennedy was so pushing for the space program was his need for publicity after a series of political upheavals that have shaken his administration.

According to CNET, Kennedy began his presidency with the belief that a moon landing would be too costly to seriously consider. Then he had a not-so-good year in 1961. The Soviet Union put the United States in a bad light when it brought Yuri Gagarin into orbit around the Earth. This made the US look weak, and the argument that Americans could not afford to fly to the moon looked kind of silly.

Kennedy then gave the green light to the invasion of the Bay of Pigs. This was a disaster for Kennedy. It was so poorly organized and incompetently executed that Kennedy looked very, very bad.

This changed his attitude towards his military leaders and advisers and forced him to look for a way to change the situation. It was ideal to announce the daring mission “Moonshot”. This made him look like a visionary leader, and the US like a technology superpower.

Moon landing is not meant to be repeated

NASA / Via
NASA / Via

Landing and flying around the moon in 1969 was an incredible feat. It cost a lot of money and effort, of course, and was one of the main reasons the Americans haven’t returned since the end of the original Apollo program in 1972. As noted in the MIT Technology Review,the original moon landing project was positioned as a “race”.

Against the Soviets, the project was not designed to be effective. Labels were used wherever possible and no one thought about building sustainable supply chains. The end result is a system in which technology and engineering equivalent to two or three giant jet planes are simply burned or thrown away, never to be used again.

In other words, the entire system for getting people to the moon was never designed to be repeated. In fact, it is surprising that the Americans completed 17 Apollo missions and visited the moon six times.

If humanity seriously wants to return, then it is necessary to develop a sustainable and effective system for this.

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In 2007, Google announced the X Prize, offering $ 30 million to the first non-governmental organization to land on the moon. Since then, only three ships have landed on the moon – all government projects, none have been crewed.

Apollo’s original design was hardly safe

Crew members of USS Iwo Jima, the main rescue ship for the Apollo 13 mission, lift the command module aboard.  NASA
Crew members of USS Iwo Jima, the main rescue ship for the Apollo 13 mission, lift the command module aboard. NASA

Since 1969, the Americans have managed to send only twelve people to the moon. It’s incredible, but even more incredible is that they all survived the trip. Simply put, getting to the Moon and back is incredibly dangerous, and the danger is compounded by the fact that Apollo’s design can be described as a “minimum viable” approach to safety.

According to Buzzfeed News, the frantic race to land humans on the moon has led to a significant reduction in technology and technology used. After landing on the moon in 1969, the sense of urgency that drove the project evaporated. In the end, the USA beat the Soviet Union on the moon, and each successive Apollo mission seemed to emphasize how little they got from these costly and stressful missions.

It all came to a head in 1970 when the Apollo 13 mission failed. The explosion deprived the crew of oxygen and damaged the module, leading to a strenuous, intimidating journey home in the crippled ship.

While the astronauts returned safely, the incident highlighted the fact that the Apollo spacecraft, according to historian John Logsdon, had been pushed “to the limits of its safe operation.” Shortly thereafter, President Nixon cut funding for the lunar landing and turned NASA’s focus on cheaper, safer projects: Skylab and the Space Shuttle.

Why did they stop flying to the moon? 3

The best technology is needed

Technology is always evolving, right? Mankind managed to assemble spaceships that took astronauts to the moon and then brought them home safe and sound in 1969.

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Has there not been an incredible advance in the technology required for a new mission like this over the past five decades?

When it comes to computers, the answer is yes. The computers on the Apollo lunar modules were incredibly simple compared to today’s hardware. In fact, as Real Clear Science notes, the smartphone in your pocket is probably 100,000 times more powerful than the computer on the Apollo spacecraft. Some calculators released in the 1980s were more powerful.

But computers are just part of the technology needed to get people to and from the moon, and their limited capabilities were due to their design, as they had to be extremely efficient to consume very little electricity.

And, as Forbes notes, much of the equipment used in the Apollo missions remains state-of-the-art – and back then, the technology was hardly good enough to get us there and keep everyone alive. The lack of major advancements can be seen in how similar Space X launches are today to those of the 1960s – not much has changed.

And this is one of the huge obstacles to getting back to the moon.

Presidents are not patient

Max Mumby / indigo / Getty Imagaes
Max Mumby / indigo / Getty Images

Legacy is always in the minds of politicians. John F. Kennedy officially began the lunar landing mission in 1962. By the time the USA actually completed it in 1969, he was assassinated – but he would not have held office even if he were alive, thanks to his limited tenure. Richard Nixon, whom Kennedy defeated in the 1960 elections, was the man who had the opportunity to enjoy the laurels of victory brought about by the moon landings.

As Lifehacker notes, since it can take a decade or more to fund, design, build and test something as complex as landing on the moon, any president who insists on such a project is guaranteed to be out of office by the time it happens. …

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In today’s political climate, where presidents never stop campaigning, the wait is unbearable. And new administrations – especially if they belong to the opposite side – have a habit of canceling large projects launched by their predecessors, precisely in order to deprive them of credit.

In fact, Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, has argued quite clearly that the only way to get back to the moon is if both political parties in that country put their differences aside. “I believe it all starts with a bipartisan commitment by Congress and the administration to sustainable leadership,” said the legendary astronaut, and he was not wrong.

Buzz Aldrin is the second person on the moon.
Buzz Aldrin is the second person on the moon.

Challenger and Colombia disasters

Why did they stop flying to the moon? 5

As Buzzfeed News notes, the space shuttle program was promoted in the 1970s because it would be cheaper than landing on the moon and safer. The space shuttle program may have been a step back from the incredible achievement of landing people on the moon, but it kept people in space and served an incredibly important purpose, both to maintain the US position as a leader in space exploration and to admire people for it.

When the Challenger space shuttle exploded in 1986, it was a terrible moment that chilled the entire country. As Space notes, this event led to changes in how NASA worked and how the Space Shuttle program was used. It was reduced, and some of the tasks performed by the Shuttle were carried over to older and more reliable technologies.

The crew of the Challenger spacecraft.  From left to right: Allison Onizuka, Mike Smith, Christa McAuliffe, Dick Scobie, Greg Jarvis, Ron McNair and Judith Resnick.  (NASA / 1986)
The crew of the Challenger spacecraft. From left to right: Allison Onizuka, Mike Smith, Christa McAuliffe, Dick Scobie, Greg Jarvis, Ron McNair and Judith Resnick. (NASA / 1986)

Then, in 2003, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on its return to Earth. According to PBS, this second disaster had a much larger impact on the space program.

President Bush and his administration have wondered whether it is worth putting human lives in danger by regularly sending them into space. This new, more cautious attitude pretty much put an end to any chance of a serious attempt to return to the moon — a mission that suddenly seemed too dangerous.

Why did they stop flying to the moon? 6
Seven Columbia Astronauts - Rick Hasband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpan Chawla, Laurel Clark, Ilan.
Seven Columbia Astronauts – Rick Hasband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpan Chawla, Laurel Clark, Ilan.

How to “make” the moon profitable

Whether we like it or not, we are a capitalist society. Investment in projects pays off, and sending people to the moon does not bring any profit. In fact, when you consider how much incredibly expensive technology burns up and falls into the ocean and is never used again, these are huge losses.

Why did they stop flying to the moon? 7

There are several possible ways to turn the Moon into a profitable operation that will attract investors and corporate money to the project. As Space notes, the Moon is a rich source of helium-3, a rare and finite element that could one day become a huge source of energy.

And also the moon could be used as a stopping point for longer travels. For example, a manned mission to Mars could fly to the moon, refuel, and have a much better chance of arriving safely on the Red Planet.

But in order for any of these scenarios to make sense, we need some sort of permanent lunar base. According to Yahoo Finance, the cost of building a “base” base is estimated at $ 100 billion, while keeping just four astronauts on such a base would cost $ 36 billion a year.

And that’s before setting up equipment and infrastructure for drilling or refueling. This means that making any profit is almost impossible and therefore the enthusiasm for profit remains low.

Discovery of new resources on earth


One of the main reasons that plans to return to the moon have been delayed is because the resources needed for such a massive undertaking are needed much closer to home. In particular, in the Arctic.

Climate change is rapidly transforming one of the world’s most inhospitable areas, the Arctic Circle, into a rich source of new, resource-rich territory, CNBC reports.

An estimated $ 35 trillion of oil and natural gas reserves lie under the ice, and the US is in a race with Russia and China to conquer as much of the territory as possible. Most of the money and engineering minds that could be working on the new lunar bar are working on this problem instead.

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The similarities between the task of establishing a base on the Moon and securing rights in the Arctic are so great that according to Wired, the race for control of the Arctic is viewed as a kind of trial run in a possible race for future control of the Moon.

Already, legal arguments are being formed to argue that how the Arctic is dealt with as it opens up should be a model for how disputes on the Moon can be resolved in the future. But we won’t get to the moon until we first deal with much more pressing — and more local — issues here.

Spotlight on Mars


“Been there, did it” doesn’t seem like a viable political or scientific approach, but it summarizes the basic attitude of many when it comes to the moon. In fact, many people in government and in space agencies think we should focus on Mars as a priority.

According to Scientific American, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee this year introduced a bill that would make the exploration of the red planet an official goal for NASA. Mars is not only a much more valuable destination in terms of scientific research and expanding our understanding of the universe, but also a goal that has captured the public’s imagination.

However, this does not mean that a return to the moon is completely ruled out. According to The Atlantic, most experts agree that the only way to reasonably safely get people to Mars is to build some sort of relay station on the Moon.

Astronauts would have to travel from Earth to the Moon, refuel and make other arrangements, and then travel from the Moon to Mars, which would simplify the logistics of the trip. But that means we still won’t be back on the moon until someone has invested serious money, talent, and other resources on a trip to Mars.

The global pandemic slows down

Global pandemic Covid-19
Global pandemic Covid-19

The global pandemic has blessed us with a shortage of toilet paper, mask requirements and endless Zoom meetings. Now, there is one more thing that you can blame the new coronavirus for: the lack of progress in returning to the moon.

When NASA announced plans to return American astronauts to the moon by 2024, it was considered overly optimistic by many, but even if the schedule fell through, it was exciting. According to Reuters, the plan to return to the moon has led to major work on a next-generation rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS), along with a new crew module called the Orion.

The program ran into some hurdles – it already exceeds the budget by $ 2 billion – but it was scheduled to be tested for the first time this year.

But like any other industry, the aerospace world has been hit by the global pandemic. NASA recently announced that it would be forced to close two critical facilities: Mishuda’s assembly plant and the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The closure was necessary because employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

NASA had to officially suspend the SLS program for a time, which dealt a serious blow to any chance of a return to the moon.

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